Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Like Seafood?

Only barbecue is more of a Dixie cliche than catfish, but grits beats them both.  (Yes, I treat grits as a singular noun.  No one eats a grit.  Wanna fight?)  And so the resumption of my blogging activities compels me to enter with all guns a-blazing, or however the phrase goes.  Herewith, a dinner comprised almost entirely of Southern standards, including my now-legendary pickled okra.

It all begins, as it often does, with a Saturday trip to the Memphis Farmers Market.  Gus chose the butter beans from Ly's Home Grown, I grabbed catfish from Muddy Waters Seafood.  (We finally have a guy who trucks shrimp, crabs, redfish and other wet things up from Louisiana.  Having devoured a couple pounds of wild catfish last month, we're back for more.)  Some Delta Grind stoneground cornmeal and grits at home in the fridge--what else does a family need?

Flowers--I rationalized buying a couple bunches from Sue's, the the Olympic athletes of floral arrangement, to spruce the place up for a couple of showings that weekend.  (Our house is on the market, you see. Don't worry--I saved the fish fry for after the prospective buyers came through.)  So when suppertime rolled around, we had dahlias to go with our vittles.

The genius of most Southern food, as I've experienced it, is that it's really home cooking.  I'm not talking about the great Cajun and Creole dishes of Louisiana here, but instead about the meat-and-three tradition of fresh food, simply prepared.  Perfect for Sunday suppers at our house--not a lot of fuss, but worth a leisurely couple of hours in the kitchen.

First, the butter beans on the stove over gentle heat with a half onion and a bay leaf.  Next, catfish soaking in buttermilk spiked with Louisiana Hot Sauce.  (And now a pause as we consider "The Perfect."  I do like it better than Tabasco--it's brighter and fruitier, less dominated by vinegar.)  For dredging the fish, whisk together lots of cornmeal with some flour, salt, pepper and paprika.  Start the grits on the stove, hovering at first as I stir them into a boiling mix of milk and water; then, once they start to thicken, turning the heat down and stirring from time to time as they glug away, waiting for their dose of butter, cheese and seasonings.

A big blob of Spectrum shortening takes the place of the peanut oil I usually use for pan-frying. (During the school year, I don't even keep peanut oil in the house, since I don't want to inadvertently send Gus to school with a forgotten morsel that could be lethal to one of his allergic schoolmates.)  This is not health food, but there's something that feels healthy about frying up catfish, tasty from its buttermilk bath, in a big old cast-iron skillet.  The crunchy crust locks in succulence and flavor, and though Solly prefers his fish nude, once he gets used to the mouthfeel of cornmeal, he ceases peeling the coating from his bits.  Did I mention how good the butter beans are?  Of all the foods on this plate, they're the most deeply delicious.  My kids--yes, kids, who aren't supposed to tolerate anything that resembles a Lima--pop them like M&Ms.

By the way, I realized as I wrote this post that I'm a fraud until I start cooking from Edna Lewis's cookbooks.  No self-respecting Yankee-turned okra-eater should do without.  In defiance of an increasingly dire fiscal outlook, both for my family and the nation--North and South--I am ordering The Taste of Country Cooking and In Pursuit of Flavor (which purports to contain some Ethiopian recipes as well).  So there.


  1. little known fact, most people with peanut allergies are not allergic to peanut oil. it has something to do with the breaking down on proteins.

    good post.

  2. Hello -
    I am a filmmaker in Atlanta. I just wanted to let you know I produced a 21 minute documentary about Miss Edna Lewis. The film is called "Fried Chicken and Sweet Potato Pie".

    It is viewable in its entirety on Internet at a Gourmet Magazine website:

    My website, has more information about the film and the story of Miss Lewis.

    Bailey Barash

  3. Great post with fantastic information.
    Online Recipes